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A mayorship done right

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

I met Gerald Hethcoat when I first moved to Florida back in 2005. I worked for another newspaper back then, and every Friday, he'd swing by the office to buy a paper and catch up. I liked him immediately.

Three years later I found myself in Williston and seeing him a lot more than once a week.

When my freelance reporter retired, I had to start covering the council meetings and seeing The Mayor in action at least twice a month.

Over time, we developed a very simpatico relationship, both at work and personally. In time, we became friends and it wasn't unusual for him to come by the office on a slow Thursday afternoon and just chat.

We discovered we had much in common, especially since he was an East Tennessee boy and I was an East Kentucky girl. I learned that at one point in time he had worked in the adjacent county to mine in Kentucky, meaning had the stars aligned then we could have bumped into one another.

Early on in my council coverage, The Mayor became increasingly exasperated about the topic being discussed and pounded his desk to make a point. I wrote about it in my article that week.

Early Thursday morning, The Mayor came to see me. Too early for his mail subscription to arrive, I wondered how he knew what I had written.

I found out that Wednesday night after church he would stop at a store and buy all the county papers, because he couldn't wait until Thursday.

"Did I really bang my fist?" He asked.

"You did," I answered. And we laughed. We've done a lot of laughing over the years.

It's become a running joke around city council members that The Mayor always has something to say, and for a long time, each council president saved The Mayor's comments for last. Occasionally a president would pretend to pass him over and The Mayor would lean back in his chair and give a sidelong glance.

I've learned to gauge meetings and issues based on his body language. I know where something is headed just by looking at him for a brief moment.

I've always called him "Mayor", and his lovely wife "Mrs. Mayor."

Even though we're friends, it is a title I use because of the deep respect I have for him.

The mayor position for the city does not carry with it the weight of a vote. However, the position is important because by city charter, it oversees the police and fire department. It is up to the mayor to go to bat for the departments when necessary and to ensure, by working with the chiefs, that everything remains copasetic.

The mayor position does hold the power of veto, The Mayor told me, and in his tenure, he has yet to use it (but he still has 2 1/2 months!).

Also as important is the mayor's role as Williston's Goodwill Ambassador. When I think of our city, Gerald Hethcoat comes to mind. He is as much a part of Williston as the water tower or the railroad.

He has lobbied tirelessly for Williston; promoted it positively across the state and nation. He's made connections that have enhanced the city's reputation nationwide.

He has represented his constituents and fought for the departments under his supervision.

He has proven invaluable with the history he carries concerning Williston.

He has done the mayorship right.

Several months ago, The Mayor told me he was not seeking re-election. It's something he told me two years ago; four years ago. But this time I sensed something different.

And last Friday he was in my office at 11 a.m. with only one hour left to qualify at city hall.

When he made no move to leave, I knew this time it was for real.

Come April Gerald Hethcoat will no longer be Williston's mayor. That's a hard pill to swallow.

However, if I know R. Gerald Hethcoat, all his time will not be spent traveling or playing with grandchildren.

No doubt, R. Gerald Hethcoat will pick up a new mantle and become R. Gerald Hethcoat, the Concerned Citizen.

I'm anxious to watch the next phase of civic service.

That's something to look forward to, Mr. Mayor. And this time around, there will be no pounding the fist on a desk.

Or will there?